Can You Actually Survive on a $20-a-Day Budget in Singapore?

can you survive on $20 a day in singapore

When you were in secondary school, JC or poly, your parents, part-time job or tuition kids might have given you $200-$400 a month. That works out to about $10 to $20 per school day, which seemed like plenty at the time.

Unfortunately, fate and inflation have dealt a cruel hand, and if you’ve woken up to the fact that imposing a daily budget on yourself at this ripe old age might be a good idea, you’re not alone.

Let’s take a step back in time and see if it’s possible for a working adult to survive on a student’s budget of $20 per working day:


While you might have a little more control over the amount you spend on other things, transport is pretty much an unchanging cost unless you live in a caravan, which incidentally is my current dream since I’ve given up all hope of ever being able to own a home.

Most people who take public transport to and from work spend about $2.50-4 per day. If you ride a motorcycle to the CBD and get free parking the daily cost of petrol and ERP should amount to about $4-5 a day, less if you live under 12km from the city and more if you live in Jurong and work in Changi.

Obviously, if you are going to be on a budget of $20 a day, taking cabs is out of the question. Splurge on one cab ride and you’ll have to miss work the next two days to save money on commuting.

Cost: $4


There’s nothing stopping you from lunching with your colleagues at that chic bistro for $15 or satisfying your ramen cravings for $18. After all, it’s still within your $20 budget. Just be prepared for the long walk home after work, which should take your mind off the fact that you have to skip dinner.

Unless you work in an underground bunker or Sentosa, there will always be some kind of food court or hawker centre near your workplace. This is Singapore after all. Even at the most overpriced hawker centres, you should be able to find something in the region of $4 to $5. There is one exception—if you work at Marina Bay Sands, you’re out of luck, though even then, you can walk to Circular Road.

If you’re really trying to cut corners, you can walk further to a cheaper hawker centre or simply opt for cheaper dishes.

While eating at your food court’s Korean stall might set you back $6 to $8, yong tau foo can usually be kept under $4, as can economy rice if you skip meat. Fishball noodles are one of the cheapest options at hawker centres and priced at $2.50 to $3 on average. If you can, skip the drink and bring your own water bottle instead. That $1.50 you save by doing so makes up 7.5% of your daily budget.

If you pack lunch in the form of leftovers from the night before or bring your own simple salad or pasta dishes, you can probably cut your costs to about $2 to $3.

Even if you don’t have time to make your own lunch, having dinner at home can really save you when you’re trying to work within a tight budget. A simple home-cooked meal can be kept under $5.

Cost: $8


If coffee is the only thing stopping you from swallowing people alive, you should know that the $6 Starbucks takeaway cup you buy every morning is 30% of your $20 budget. Downgrade to kopi and you instantly save almost $5.

Alternatively, you could just drink the coffee and tea in the office pantry for $0 or bring your own tea bags if you’re convinced they’re trying to poison you.

Cost: $1

After Work Fun

If you’ve been wondering why you need to deprive yourself of luxury during the work day, here’s why—you’ll have more to spend after work when you’re free from the shackles of having to rush back to the office at 2pm.

If you’ve been good about saving money at work, you’ll have $7 or so to spend each day after work without busting your budget. It might not seem like much, but bear in mind most people don’t go out every single day after work.

Your $7 a day or $35 a week can go a lot further if you limit your post-work socialising to 2-3 times a week. Going out three times a week will leave you with $11.66 each time. If you go out twice a week, this rises to a rather impressive $17.50.

Here’s what you can do for $11.66 and below.

  • Have one happy hour beer
  • Watch a weekday movie
  • Check out a museum

By the way, watching TV is free. #justsaying

The Verdict

Surviving on $20 a day isn’t easy, as you can see. Every cent counts and you’ll soon find yourself calculating the cost of adding an egg to your hawker centre meal. But it is a realistic budget in that you get to have decent meals, travel to and from work without resorting to hitchhiking and even indulge in some entertainment now and then.

What’s your daily budget? Let us know in the comments!

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